The biggest Czech sports successes of 2005, and a quick look ahead to next year

29-12-2005

Sport is one area in which the Czech Republic often punches above its weight, and some of the country's top sports stars - such as Pavel Nedved and Jan Zelezny - are truly world famous. Let's take a short look back at Czech successes this year, and a quick look ahead to 2006.

Football is the world game and the Czech national team - second in FIFA's world rankings - this year secured a place at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The Czechs finished second in their group, eventually making it through after beating Norway in the play-offs. Pavel Nedved still hasn't announced whether he will go to Germany, but it's unlikely he will miss the chance to appear in a World Cup for the first and last time. Expect other players of his generation, such as Karel Poborsky and Vladimir Smicer, to retire from the international game after the competition.

Smicer, one of the most popular figures in Czech football, ended his career at Liverpool on a high with a fantastic goal in the final of the Champions League. Both he and Milan Baros were the first Czechs to win the prestigious competition.

In the Czech Republic ice hockey is just as popular as soccer, if not more so, and the whole country celebrated in May when Jaromir Jagr and company took gold at the World Championships in Vienna. A month and a half from now the nation will be glued to their TV sets again, as the Czech team attempts to repeat the famous 1998 Winter Olympics win in Nagano, this time in Turin.

Among the other Czechs hoping to do well at the Olympics will be cross country skier Katerina Neumannova, who this year became world champion for the first time. Ski jumper Jakub Janda will be hoping to follow up his recent successes with a medal too.

In athletics in 2005 young Jaroslav Baba set a new Czech high jump record of 237 cm, though he missed out on the medals at the World Championships in Helsinki. The Czech Republic's biggest success there was silver in the decathlon for Roman Sebrle.

Finally tennis and two young Czechs - Nicole Vaidisova and Tomas Berdych - made a very big splash this year. Vaidisova, still only 16, broke into the world top 20, taking three WTA titles. Berdych, meanwhile, won the Paris Masters, the biggest Czech success in tennis in some years. Expect to hear more about them - and a host of other Czech sportsmen and women - over the next 12 months.

29-12-2005

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